Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas

St. Gregory Palamas

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


   In the epistle we’re told to PAY ATTENTION, much like when the deacon says “Let us Attend”. How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? What does it mean to PAY ATTENTION? We shall explore this towards the end of the sermon. 

   Christ is our High Priest. He is both the One Who offers, and the One Who is offered. 

   In the Gospel Jesus has left the region of the Gerasenes. In a previous Gospel reading, they had asked Him to leave. They met God and asked Him to leave. And so He went home. Back at home we have one of the three instances where Christ heals a Paralytic. In the healing of this Paralytic, —  Jesus honours the faith of those who brought him there. He heals not entirely because of the Paralytic’s faith, for surely the Paralytic desired healing,  but because of the faith of his friends who brought him to Jesus. . . . And we must also ask why it is that the people did not move aside to allow the friends to bring the Paralytic in. It is important for us to enter into one another’s struggle and not stand in their way,  but to pray for each other and act to get ourselves and them to the Physician, that He may heal us.

   Jesus says a couple of  very interesting things to the paralytic: “Be of good cheer, child, thy sins are forgiven.” Jesus speaks words of relation to this man whose plight was ignored by many others; He calls him “son”; He brings him into the household of God. When we don’t see others, we dehumanize them. In our society the disabled are treated as if they were not there. They are invisible; often if someone is with them, we will speak to the other as if the disabled person is not there. We don’t see the other for who they are. In many ways, such an attitude is just as paralyzing to all. 

   Jesus words do not imply that there was some sin that caused this man to be paralyzed; His words are words of restoration. “Thy sins are forgiven”, means that this one who is paralyzed is restored. He is welcomed as a child of God. And by restoring this paralyzed man, Jesus lets people know Who He is: . . . In Isaiah the prophet says of God: “I AM, I am He that blots out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and thy sins, I will not remember.”

   Jesus challenges the pharisee’s understanding by forgiving the paralytic’s sin; for they lacked compassion for this paralytic and his condition. They were more interested in proving themselves right. It is not the paralytic who says: “I came for healing and you forgave my sins?” This thought does not occur to the paralytic. But it is in the hearts of the pharisees. Another thing that annoyed the pharisees is that prophesy was fulfilled in their presence. 

   The second thing Jesus says to the Paralytic is: “Arise take up thy pallet and go home.” Not “take up thy pallet and walk” as He instructed another paralytic, but rather “go home.” And when we think of “home”, for many of us, this too is a place of wounding. But Jesus Himself has opened our path to our home, not an earthly city but a home in the city to come, in the Kingdom of God. Jesus has healed not just the body, but also the soul of the paralytic. 

   Who are we in this story? What has us paralyzed? . . . What attitudes and relationships do we have where we are paralyzed? . . . What fears do we have that paralyze us? . . . Do we treat ourselves like the crowd who will not move out of the way so that Jesus can heal us? . . . Will we allow four friends to help us?: Fasting, Prayer, Alms, Humility? . . . Are we willing to remove whatever roof is keeping us from Jesus? . . . Or How are we helping our friends who are paralyzed find healing? . . . Are we the ones who don’t think others are worthy of being healed? . . . Do we take offense at how Jesus heals? . . . When Jesus tells us to go home, what home do we go to? Is it a good healthy home?

   In the second Gospel we have Jesus teaching about the Good Shepherd. 

   The Hireling is not concerned with the sheep but with himself, with his own position and pay. 

   Jesus gives up His life for His sheep. 

   The wolf tests the shepherd to see if he be hireling or true shepherd. . . . When the wolf comes the hireling abandons the sheep. Christ is the good shepherd, not because He has good sheep, but that He gives His life for them. . . for their health and salvation. And Jesus ordained that some be shepherds — but only He is the door. 

   And many of us have experienced good shepherds,. . .  and we have experienced hirelings. . . . And as we look out at how various priests and bishops are handling the current crisis, we see very good shepherds, who are doing their best to take care of their flock in impossible circumstances. . . and we see hirelings. And we marvel at the care of the good shepherds. . . . and we feel the emptiness of the hirelings. . . Even if they be hirelings, we must love them and pray for them. This is hard. It is hard to pray the prayer of St. Ephraim “not to judge my brother” when we feel the sting of their judgement . . . and of their poor judgement, . . . and our own judgement on them. 

   Those good shepherds we have been under should be treasured — those that held themselves accountable to God for the sheep He had put them over. And we must glorify God Who brought us to such shepherds. . . . In that we have experienced hirelings, we must heal — or more accurately, we must allow God to heal us. And we must acknowledge that the wounds that the hireling inflicts on us: abuse, abandonment, . . . these are deep wounds that will take time to heal. 

   And whether our shepherds be good or bad, we have a High Priest who knows what we are going through and Who offers Himself for us and for our salvation. For He guides us by walking ahead. He heals us: . . . even our death He heals by trampling down death by His own death. He leads us beside calm waters, in green pastures. He nurtures us in ways only He knows. He provides for us our needs that are hidden from us. 

   And finally, today is the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas. St. Gregory was archbishop of Thessalonica. He spent some time on Mt Athos. We remember him for this Sunday is a second triumph of Orthodoxy. Last week we celebrated the Victory of the Icon, of God becoming Man, whom He Himself created in His own Image. This week we celebrate our call to complete this — to become like God. This all started when a monk from Calabria named Barlaam, who brought his scholasticism to the east. He thought that God should be understandable and that we should be able to figure Him out logically. He thought that the monks of Mt. Athos were wasting their time. He thought they should be using his scholastic method to approach God using reasoning and rationalism. St. Gregory debated him and pointed out that though we may attain purity of heart and see God, just as Jesus promised, that we saw God’s glory, His energie. (Just as Moses and Elijah saw) Yet we cannot know God in essence as He knows Himself. But we can see His uncreated light, as the three disciples saw at Mt. Tabor at the transfiguration. Barlaam’s approach to God is common in our western culture. We even sadly see some Orthodox who have adopted it. . . . But that is not what we are up to. . . . We are to have a relationship with God — not analyze God. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware once said: “It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.” 

But God is both beyond in His essence, and deeply involved with the world through His grace as manifested in His energie. 

   St. Gregory defended Hesychasm (or quietness). Hesychasts recognize that we must watch over our rational faculties; we must make them serve us rather than enslave us. We must collect our minds that have been darkened and distracted by our senses. One of the ways that we collect our minds and make it serve us is to put our mind in our hearts and in the presence of Jesus. This is usually done with the aid of the Jesus prayer: O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner. 

   This prayer has been commended to us by the fathers of the Church as a way of focusing on Jesus and gathering our distracted minds, and so to obtain sobriety. The idea is to fulfill the commandment of St. Paul to pray without ceasing. It is commended with some caveats: We can expect things to come up for us that we need to deal with. If we are to make extensive constant use of this prayer we need regular access to a father confessor. 

   But we can still make use of it, when we feel attacked from within by our minds, or distracted from without by the noise of the world. 

   Hesychasm (the practice of quietness) asks a question of us: What is it in our life that distracts us? that causes us to lose focus? . . . What can we do to turn down the noise? . . . What things, that should be our servants, have we allowed to enslave us?

   Great Lent bids us to turn down the noise, and to flee from the slavery of our own reasonings and desires. And to move toward Christ:  to Whom belong glory, dominion, honor, and worship, with His Father Who IS without beginning and the most holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen

Sunday of Orthodoxy

Sermon Sunday of Orthodoxy

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit:


   We have made it through the first week of Great Lent. This has been a hard week. But we made it. And the Church has given us these weekends as a time to fast, but not quite as rigourously. We have a couple of days each weekend, and then . . .  the rigours of the week day return. Tonight we have Washingto Orthodox Clergy Association vespers of Sunday evening to help us transition back into the rigours of the weekday. Two years ago we were at the beginning of the Pandemic; this was the last WOCA vespers that we did.  This year we start again. The weekend is an important time to catch our breath and then once again face the journey to Pascha, preparing to face another week. 

   I would be remiss as your priest if I did not acknowledge the conflict in the world; a conflict that has brought Orthodox brother against Orthodox brethren. The history of the Church has always been messy. We can see this in St. Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians. St. Kyril of Alexandria had some problems with St. John Chrysostom. Indeed, the very thing we celebrate today started in AD 726 with an emperor who attempted to abolish icons. This action of the political leader had some support in earlier times by some of the Monophysite and Nestorian bishops. It was also fueled by fear of Islam and their proscription of images. For 117 years icons were removed from parishes and cathedrals. Illuminated manuscripts were destroyed. Some people (created in God’s Image, were killed, and monks were forcibly married to women; churches and monasteries were burned. Some bishops even got together to fashion a robber council to prohibit icons. This went back and forth for many years. At one point the emperor deposed the patriarch and forbade priests from preaching. Eventually the Orthodox way prevailed; and we call the victory of Orthodoxy over the iconoclasts: The Triumph of Orthodoxy.

   Today we celebrate a great feast of the Incarnation of Christ. The Prophets proclaimed and prophesied the coming of our Lord in the flesh. And because of that it is both proper and necessary to depict that flesh in images. Hitherto no one had seen God in any form and it was not proper to depict Him. 

   Today we celebrate the return of icons to the worship of Christ our God on earth. Today we commemorate the restoration in AD 843 of Icons. They went in procession to the Church of Theotokos ton Blakhernós, and restored the icons. 

   The scriptures we read were catechistic. They are pointing those who will be baptised at the end of Great Lent to what the beginning of the journey was for the disciples, and reminding them of the prophets of old that looked forward to the Kingdom and the coming of the Messiah but never saw it themselves. We celebrate the Incarnation of the Word of God Who took flesh for our sake. The indescribable deigned to become describable. As we will hear in the Gospel on Bright Monday: “No man has ever seen God; the only begotten Son Who Is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”

   He Who is the very radiance of the glory of God, the very Icon of His Person has shown Himself. As we sing in Matins: “God is the Lord and has revealed Himself unto us!” For He Who is the very Icon of God has taken that flesh that He Himself created in His Image, and joined the two together without confusion. 

   We venerate icons by kissing them as we would kiss a revered friend. We venerate them by bowing, again as to a revered friend. We also venerate them by censing them with incense. When we cense icons we are recognizing that the person depicted was created in God’s Image and reflected His likeness. 

   But we also cense us — we humans. We are created in God’s Image; by censing ourselves we honour that Image of God in ourselves. 

   So as we honour the Image of God in ourselves by censing we must ask ourselves: “Do we honour God’s Image in us?” Is how we live a reflection of that Image of God in us? Do we seek God’s will in our lives? Do we honour His image in ourselves? our family members? Our co-workers? The people we meet everyday? Do we see God’s image in the Barista who makes our coffee drink? Do we see the Image of God in the homeless person whose path we cross? Do we see the Image of God in the person whose politics we despise? In the eyes of the refugee who asks for a safe place? Do we see God’s Image in the face of those people we don’t like? 

   For all of us, that likeness with God is broken and distorted. Are we working with God to restore that likeness? How are we treating His Image in others . . .  remembering that He said that how we treat the least of these is how we treat Him? By how we treat ourselves and others we often are guilty of being iconoclasts. 

   These are questions that this Sunday requires us to look at. While we are celebrating the Triumph this evening we must pause and take stock at where we are. Celebrating the restoration of Icons means we must work on restoring God’s Likeness in us. 

   The older themes of this Sunday can help us. Before the restoration of Icons, this Sunday was dedicated to the prophets. If you read or sing the hymns of this Sunday you will notice that it bounces between Icons and the Prophets. If we were to do Complines tonight we would hear the older canon of the Prophets. The prophets called Israel and Judah to repentance. They called the people to treat the poor, the orphan, the widow, the foreigner with respect. They called the people to treat their children as precious gifts from God, and not as a thing that can be disposed of to appease a Ba-al, or to appease our gods of material gain and convenience. They called the people back from, and criticized the false images of their material greed, their love of power over love of people. And the people did not repent and had to pay the cost in exile. We are encouraged during Lent to read the prophet Isaiah. No matter what age we live in, the book of Isaiah has some sobering criticism of our society. 

   He sandwiches his prophecies of destruction with consolation, with the message: “It doesn’t have to be that way; you can repent.”; in someway he is saying to us today: “It doesn’t have to be this way; we can repent.” By Chapter 40 it becomes clear that the people won’t repent, and he prepares them for exile and return. Great Lent is a period of exile and return from exile. 

   This is what the Church asks us to chew on as we journey towards Pascha. God calls us in this period to work with Him to restore His likeness in us. The prayers are all a part of that. The Presanctified Liturgy and other services are all a part of that. Fasting is all a part of that. Alms are all a part of that. The Triodion is part of that. The prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian is part of that. These are the tools we have been given. These tools must be applied with love, or they will be useless to us. These tools help us see clearly. Very often we have a distorted view of ourselves, either overlooking or excusing *our own sin with pride, or aggrandizing our sin (making it bigger and unsurmountable in our eyes) . . .  and falling into despair. But we can repent. . . it doesn’t have to be this way. 

   All of this takes place, today on a canvass of war — of war in which one Orthodox country has invaded another Orthodox country. A grave sin is being set forth. War is always a grave sin. And we hear this war both decried and justified. And some of the noise of war is being spoken by Orthodox bishops and clerics — a noise that we sometimes hear from our own mouths. 

   Brothers and sisters, the war is out there. It is real; it is serious. It, like the iconoclast controversy of 1400 years ago threatens the unity of the Church. In addition to actual icons and churches being bombed, people created in God’s Image are dying. This is a wound that, if we take the Incarnation seriously, runs very deep. And, at the same time that we must grieve that wound, please, do not let the war come into our heads. Let us not fight with our brothers and sisters and so perpetuate the grievous sin that comes with war. But most importantly, do not let the war into our own heads; do not fight it out in ourselves. As I said last week, this will be one of the hardest of Great Lents for us. The needs of our brothers and sisters in the war-torn country of Ukraine are real; and, if you wish to help, there are ways to make sure assistance gets to Ukraine through Metropolitan Onuphry. Be careful; choose the news outlets that you use carefully; some of them gain following and revenue by stoking the flames of fear and anger; . . . and they are working over-time. Or better yet fast from too much news — for this distracts us from our work of coming to God in repentance. We are being given the temptation of replacing God with our own fear and need to feel in control. We are being invited to a new iconoclasm within ourselves. For when we are in control, we push God out of our lives. 

   God calls us today to restore His Likeness in us, just as the icons were restored to the Churches. … to Him be glory and honour, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. 

Forgiveness Sunday

Sermon Forgiveness Sunday

[Rom. 13:11-14:4 (§112)] ; [Matt. 6:14-21 (§17)]

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: 


   It is time: The time is now. It is time for the Lord to act. 

   WAKE UP!! The night is far spent. St. Paul tells us to put aside all excesses both of our bodies and of our passions. But rather to put on our Lord Jesus Christ. Some of our passions are of the body: rebelling — drunkenness, sexual excess; . . . some passions are of our mind: arguing, strife, jealousy, judgement. We are beginning the strictest time of fasting in our Church Year. We each will fast: fasting not just from food but also from these passions. Or we will distain the fast, and will lose the opportunity to war against those things that come between us and God. The Church gives us this opportunity to journey with Christ to Jerusalem. 

   Today is Forgiveness Sunday. At Vespers after Trapeza, we will have the service of mutual forgiveness. The Gospel we are reminds us of the importance of forgiveness — that we must forgive in order to be forgiven. We are also instructed to keep our fasting a secret. Those of us who are new to fasting, it is good to have one person that we hold ourselves accountable to. Those of us who are old hat at fasting should tell no one how well or how badly we do it. Our fasting is supposed to reflect the simplicity of Paradise; the peace of Paradise.

   Keep our eyes on our own plates. It is none of our business how others are keeping the fast. For those of us who are traveling, or visiting, or in situations where someone else is putting food in front of us: eat what is placed in front of you. If someone puts a plate of steak in front of you, it is THE FAST to eat it, to accept their hospitality without hinting that you are observing a fast. 

   As we increase our fasting, prayers, and alms — expect resistance: resistance from our society, from our friends and family, . . . resistance from the evil one and from the demons; . . . but most of all let us expect resistance in ourselves, If you fall in your observance of the Fast, do not use that as an excuse to invalidate yourselves, the Church’s appointed fast, or others. Get back up and begin again. 

   Let us fast as a way of drawing close to God, to let our hunger remind us of God. Let us not fast for its own sake, for remember that the Pharisee fasted, and his fasting was worthless, for he was proud of his fasting.

   I invite you to fast from the glut of information that we feast on daily, especially what we have experienced for the last 10 days. I realize many of us need to be on-line for work. Still it is good to turn down the volume on all the news and stories and issues and noise that assails us daily. Even if we must be on-line, if we can spend as little time the first week of lent and during Holy Week we will do well. 

There are lots of people out there who have a vested interest in us being angry, upset. They want to manipulate our passions for their cause whether it be political, for profit, for power. I invite you to fast from political arguments. The noise that is getting louder keeps us from seeing our own contribution to that very noise, so that we can’t see ourselves and repent. 

And what of repentance? Menoia (the Greek word that is translated) means to change our nous, our spiritual mind. It is also used to describe a profound bow to the ground. It is the posture of humility. If we force our bodies to be humble, our spirits and minds will follow. 

I invite you to listen to the Quiet. In the Quiet it is easier to see the meaninglessness of it all — the boredom and the fear. And I invite you to treasure the Kingdom of God above all. As Elijah met God’s glory in the quiet still voice, so let us meet God through stillness. 

   Forgiveness — entering the fast with forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean that what was done was OK — just that you are not going to let it rent space in your head. 

   Most people, when they say to others “forgive”, they mean stop processing the pain, because your pain makes them uncomfortable. The only way of healing is through the pain — and it is only through the pain that true forgiveness can happen. 

   Forgiveness is a process. . . it lives after the processing of grieving and of facing abandonment. 

   True forgiveness is a process that takes us deep into ourselves and our own pain. It is not the same as excusing the abuser. It cannot be forced; it cannot be accomplished by saying mere words. It cannot be rushed, for if it is rushed it is false. 

   Forgiveness is a journey. . . . a journey into a wound that someone has made in us. . . . only to discover that the wound is deeper than this person who wounded us, and that there are a lot of other people in this wound, and one of those includes myself.

   Until we forgive the darkness in ourselves, we do not know what forgiveness is.

   We begin this time of fasting in a time of conflict and war. We feel helpless, as if there is little we can do in a drama that is being directed by three powers who have not consulted us. What can we do?

   As St. Silouan said: We can stand before the Lord in prayer, praying for the world that is shedding blood.

   Metropolitan Anthony Bloom adds that we pray, “Not in that easy prayer that we offer out of our comfort, but in a prayer that rushes to heaven from sleepless nights; in a prayer that does not give rest; in a prayer that is born from the horror of compassion; in a prayer that no longer allows us to continue living our insignificant and empty life. That prayer requires us to finally understand that life is deep and that we are spending it racing about something unworthy and also became unworthy of ourselves, unworthy of God, unworthy of sorrow and joy, the torment on the Cross and the Glory of Resurrection, which constantly alternate and intertwine on our earth.”

“In the face of what is going on in front of the Cross, death, and spiritual agony of people, let us renounce the pettiness and insignificance of our life—and then we will be able to do something: by our prayer, by way of our life, and perhaps even by something braver and more creative.”

   It is a very difficult time, . . . and there will be much to distract us from focusing on prayer and our own repentence. We have to be more vigilant to our own spiritual needs. . . And the parts of us that deal with fear, want us to focus on that instead. . .  This is going to be one of the most difficult Great Lents that any of us do. Be sober: watch and pray  that we enter not into temptation. 

   To Him Who comes to His Passion for our sakes, be all glory honour and worship; now and ever and unto the ages of ages.